UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell

UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell
UK police lifted the lid Wednesday on a years-long probe into the notorious Daesh kidnap-and-murder cell dubbed the “Beatles” by their captives. (AFP)
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Updated 17 August 2022

UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell

UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell
  • Counter-terrorism officers said the hostages' recollections helped "zero in" on three of the British captors
  • The Daesh cell members were known to their captives as the "Beatles" because of their distinctive British accents

LONDON: UK police lifted the lid Wednesday on a years-long probe into the notorious Daesh kidnap-and-murder cell dubbed the “Beatles” by their captives.
Counter-terrorism officers said the hostages’ recollections helped “zero in” on three of the British captors.
The Daesh cell members, who tried to keep their identities hidden, held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and were known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their distinctive British accents.
Two of them — 38-year-old Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, 34 — have been brought to justice in the United States for their part in the gruesome beheadings and killings of several Americans.
Another, Mohamed Emwazi — dubbed “Jihadi John” — died in Syria in 2015.
A fourth alleged British member was remanded in UK custody last week on terrorism charges after Turkey deported him following a jail term there.
Ahead of Elsheikh’s sentencing on Friday, British police have now detailed how their nearly decade-long probe unearthed key evidence used by US prosecutors to convict him in April.
“The building of the case is described as like putting together very small pieces of a jigsaw,” Richard Smith, the head of London police’s counter-terrorism unit, told reporters at a briefing Wednesday.
“What we pieced together here is a trail of breadcrumbs, fragments of breadcrumbs really, among a huge amount of other inquiries, which we were then able to present... to a court to assist the prosecution in the US.”
London’s Metropolitan Police first began probing what would become known as the “Beatles” cell in November 2012, when a spate of kidnappings of Western journalists and aid workers began in northern Syria.
Following some hostages’ release, as well as videos of other captives being beheaded by an executioner with a British accent, officers discovered some of the suspected perpetrators were UK citizens.
From the accounts of freed hostages, alongside other information and intelligence, they first identified the executioner as Emwazi.
Born in Kuwait but raised in the UK since aged six, he was killed by a US drone strike in Syria in 2015.
As British police worked to identify others, Smith said a “snippet of conversation” between captors and captives provided the key breakthrough.
Kotey and Elsheikh had revealed they were once arrested in central London at a far-right English Defense League (EDL) protest, which featured a counter-demonstration by an Islamic group.
Officers were able to trawl back through records of arrests at such events and discovered a September 2011 incident in which the pair were held over a stabbing.
Police then unearthed video footage of the duo from the day, data from their seized mobile phones that showed links to Emwazi, and other evidence leads.
“(That) one piece of information emerged from the hostages we spoke to, which was fairly unremarkable on the face of it to the hostage but proved very significant to us,” said Smith.
Officers also used a 2014 firearms conviction of Elsheikh’s brother to find further evidence from his mobile phone seized in that case.
It included images of Elsheikh in Syria in combat gear with a gun, and graphic pictures of severed heads which the 34-year-old had labelled “Syrian casualties.”
Meanwhile, officers discovered a 2009 police interview with him over an unrelated case that featured his voice, which experts were able to conclude was the same as a captor’s heard in Daesh hostage videos.
The “Beatles” cell is accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.
Kotey and Elsheikh were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to US forces in Iraq before being sent to the US with UK permission.
There they faced charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.
Kotey pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.


Putin grants Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Snowden

US whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks during an interview with The Guardian newspaper at an undisclosed location in Hong Kong.
US whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks during an interview with The Guardian newspaper at an undisclosed location in Hong Kong.
Updated 9 sec ago

Putin grants Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Snowden

US whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks during an interview with The Guardian newspaper at an undisclosed location in Hong Kong.
  • “Our position has not changed,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday. “Mr. Snowden should return to the United States where he should face justice as any other American citizen would”

MOSCOW: Russia on Monday granted citizenship to former American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who fled prosecution after he revealed highly classified US surveillance programs to capture communications and data from around the world.
A decree signed Monday by Russian President Vladimir Putin listed Snowden as one of 75 foreign citizens listed as being granted Russian citizenship. After fleeing the US in 2013, Snowden was granted permanent Russian residency in 2020 and said at the time that he planned to apply for Russian citizenship without renouncing his US citizenship.
Ties between Washington and Moscow are already at their lowest point in decades following Putin’s decision to launch what the Kremlin has dubbed a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
While Snowden, 39, is considered by supporters to be a righteous whistleblower who wanted to protect American civil liberties, US intelligence officials have accused him of putting US personnel at risk and damaging national security. He currently faces charges in the United States that could result in decades in prison.
“Our position has not changed,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday. “Mr. Snowden should return to the United States where he should face justice as any other American citizen would.”
Snowden becomes a Russian citizen as Moscow is mobilizing reservists to go to Ukraine. In Russia, almost every man is considered a reservist until age 65, and officials on Monday stressed that men with dual citizenship are also eligible for the military call-up.
Snowden, however, has never served in the Russian armed forces, so he is not eligible to be mobilized, his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told the Interfax news agency. Having previous combat or military service experience has been considered the main criterion in the call-up.
Kucherena told Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti that Snowden’s wife, Lindsay Mills, an American who has been living with him in Russia, will also be applying for a Russian passport. The couple has two children.
“After two years of waiting and nearly ten years of exile, a little stability will make a difference for my family,” Snowden tweeted Monday. “I pray for privacy for them — and for us all.”
Snowden, who has kept a low profile in Russia and occasionally criticized Russian government policies on social media, said in 2019 that he was willing to return to the US if he’s guaranteed a fair trial.
Snowden has become a well-known speaker on privacy and intelligence, appearing remotely at many events from Russia. But he has been sharply criticized by members of the intelligence community, and current and former officials from both US political parties say he endangered global security by exposing important programs. A US damage assessment of his disclosures is still classified.
James Clapper, who served as US director of national intelligence at the time of the disclosures, said Snowden’s grant of citizenship came with “rather curious timing.”
“It raises the question — again — about just what he shared with the Russians,” Clapper said in an email Monday.
Snowden has denied cooperating with Russian intelligence and was traveling through Moscow when the US revoked his passport.
Snowden leaked documents on the National Security Agency’s collection of data passing through the infrastructure of US phone and Internet companies. He also released details about the classified US intelligence budget and the extent of American surveillance on foreign officials, including the leaders of US-allied countries.
Snowden says he made the disclosures because he believed the US intelligence community had gone too far and wrongly infringed on civil liberties. He also has said he didn’t believe the administration of former President Barack Obama, which was in office when Snowden leaked the records to journalists, would act had he made an internal whistleblower complaint instead.
His decision to turn against the NSA came when he used his programming skills to to create a repository of classified in-house notes on the agency’s global snooping and as he built a backup system for agency data, he wrote in his 2019 book “Permanent Record.”
Reading through the repository, Snowden said he began to understand the extent of his government’s stomping on civil liberties and became “cursed with the knowledge that all of us had been reduced to something like children, who’d been forced to live the rest of their lives under omniscient parental supervision.”
Snowden was charged in 2013 with unauthorized disclosure of US national security and intelligence information as well as theft of government property. The three charges each carry a maximum 10-year penalty.
The Justice Department also sued to stop Snowden from collecting profits on his memoir, saying he had violated his nondisclosure agreements with intelligence agencies.
The White House on Monday referred comment on Snowden’s citizenship to the Justice Department, citing the pending criminal charges.

 


Blinken urges Pakistan to seek China debt relief after floods

Blinken urges Pakistan to seek China debt relief after floods
Updated 8 min 31 sec ago

Blinken urges Pakistan to seek China debt relief after floods

Blinken urges Pakistan to seek China debt relief after floods
  • Blinken promised strong US support for Pakistan as it dries out and rebuilds from the floods

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Monday on Pakistan to seek debt relief from its close partner China as floods devastate the South Asian country.
Blinken promised strong US support for Pakistan as it dries out and rebuilds from the floods, which have submerged one-third of the country, an area the size of the United Kingdom.
“We send a simple message. We are here for Pakistan, just as we were during past natural disasters, looking ahead to rebuild,” Blinken said after talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
“I also urged our colleagues to engage China on some of the important issues of debt relief and restructuring so that Pakistan can more quickly recover from the floods,” Blinken said.
China is a key economic and political partner of Pakistan, pushing ahead with a $54-billion “economic corridor” that will build infrastructure and give Beijing an outlet to the Indian Ocean.
Washington, whose Cold War alliance with Islamabad has frayed, has repeatedly charged that China will reap the benefits while Pakistan will face unsustainable debt.
The warnings by the United States — which considers China its preeminent global competitor — have repeatedly been brushed aside by Pakistan.
But Beijing has faced concerns about security following a series of attacks linked to separatists, including a suicide bombing in April on a minibus from a Chinese cultural program that killed four people, three of them Chinese.
Some 1,600 people have died in Pakistan’s floods and more than seven million displaced, amid fears that such severe disasters will become more commonBlinken promised strong US support for Pakistan as it dries out and rebuilds from the floods due to climate change.
The United States has committed $56 million in humanitarian aid and sent 17 planes full of supplies, with Blinken promising to look at longer-term support, as well.


UN speeches end with silence from Myanmar, Afghanistan

UN speeches end with silence from Myanmar, Afghanistan
Updated 26 September 2022

UN speeches end with silence from Myanmar, Afghanistan

UN speeches end with silence from Myanmar, Afghanistan
  • There was no speech from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, who now control the nation after a US withdrawal, and no words from Myanmar, where a military junta toppled the civilian government
  • Myanmar and Afghanistan didn’t go entirely unmentioned at UNGA77 with Nepali FM Bharat Raj Paudyal referencing both countries

UNITED NATIONS: For the second straight year, Afghanistan and Myanmar were silent at the UN General Assembly’s leaders’ meeting, which ended Monday with no representative of either government stepping forward to talk as the United Nations tries to resolve who should represent them.
At the annual high-level meeting of leaders, there was no speech from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, who now control the nation after a US withdrawal last year, and no words from Myanmar, where a military junta toppled the civilian government last year and detained its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
For Afghanistan, it mirrored last year’s assembly when the Taliban — in its second chapter of ruling the nation — tried to figure out how to interact with the United Nations.
Last month, the UN special envoy on Myanmar said she wouldn’t visit the Southeast Asia nation again unless its military government allows her to meet with Suu Kyi, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison, including a three-year term with hard labor imposed last week for alleged election fraud.
Myanmar’s military seized power in February 2021 from Suu Kyi’s elected government, plunging the country into what some UN experts have described as civil war. Critics say the charges subsequently brought against Suu Kyi and top figures in her Cabinet were fabricated to keep them out of politics.
In December, the UN delayed actions on both Afghanistan’s and Myanmar’s bid for seats. UN diplomats said then that the decision to delay the requests by Myanmar’s junta and the Taliban had wide support because of the actions of the two countries’ new rulers.
Myanmar and Afghanistan didn’t go entirely unmentioned Monday. Bharat Raj Paudyal, foreign secretary of Nepal, brought up both of them.
“Afghanistan has remained on the precipice of uncertainty and violence,” he noted, and asked all parties in Myanmar to “respect the will of the people to elect their representatives.”


World needs a ‘new paradigm for peace,’ Indonesian foreign minister tells UN General Assembly

World needs a ‘new paradigm for peace,’ Indonesian foreign minister tells UN General Assembly
Updated 26 September 2022

World needs a ‘new paradigm for peace,’ Indonesian foreign minister tells UN General Assembly

World needs a ‘new paradigm for peace,’ Indonesian foreign minister tells UN General Assembly
  • Retno Marsudi said it is the responsibility of all nations to ensure all peace efforts apply ‘consistently, not selectively or only when we see fit’

LONDON: Peaceful solutions offer the only hope for resolving conflicts around the globe, Indonesia’s foreign minister told the UN General Assembly Debate on Monday.

Focusing in particular on the plight of the peoples of Palestine and Afghanistan, Retno Marsudi said the world needs a “new paradigm to reignite the spirit of peace,” and added that it is a global responsibility to apply it “consistently, not selectively or only when we see fit.”

She continued: “The fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity are non-negotiable. For far too long, the people in Palestine have suffered and longed for peace. Until Palestine can truly become an independent state, Indonesia will stand firm in solidarity with our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

“People in Afghanistan also deserve a peaceful and prosperous life, where the rights of all people, including women, are equally respected, where access to education for women and girls are granted.

“Without this new paradigm, peace will remain an elusive dream.”

Marsudi also said the developing world is looking to the members of the G20, of which Indonesia currently holds the presidency, to spearhead economic recovery efforts worldwide.

“The whole world is pinning their hope on the G20 to be a catalyst of global economic recovery, especially for developing countries,” she said.

“The G20 must not fail. We cannot let global recovery fall at the mercy of geopolitics. We must act urgently to address food and energy crises and prevent a fertilizer crisis from happening, otherwise billions more people would be at risk, particularly in developing countries.”

Marsudi also echoed the growing calls during the General Assembly for reforms within the UN.

“Inclusive and meaningful engagement must trump a take-it-or-leave-it approach (and) the voices of all countries — big and small, developed and developing — must equally matter,” she said.

“This is the very foundation of multilateralism. That is why we need a strong and reformed UN. That is why we need a renewed multilateralism that is fit for purpose and that is fit for its time, and that is why we need a multilateralism that delivers.”


Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1

Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1
Updated 26 September 2022

Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1

Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1
  • State visits, which feature more pomp and ceremony than the frequent bilateral meetings hosted by US presidents for foreign leaders, have not taken place so far during Biden’s presidency
  • Asked why France had been chosen for the honor ahead of other US allies, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said ‘we deeply value our relationship with France’

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden will host French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House on December 1 for the first full-scale state visit of his administration, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
The visit will “underscore the deep and enduring relationship between the United States and France, our oldest ally,” Jean-Pierre told reporters at the White House.
State visits, which feature more pomp and ceremony than the frequent bilateral meetings hosted by US presidents for foreign leaders, have not taken place so far during Biden’s presidency, which Jean-Pierre attributed to Covid pandemic restrictions.
Asked why France had been chosen for the honor ahead of other US allies, Jean-Pierre said “we deeply value our relationship with France.”
The link between the two countries is “founded on shared democratic values, economic ties, and defense and security cooperation,” she said.
Relations between Paris and Washington hit a major crisis last year when Australia abruptly announced it was ditching a contract to buy conventional French submarines in favor of a US nuclear-powered submarine deal.